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Black-owned theaters focus of series of magazine articles

Attracting audiences of color

Merdies Hayes Editor | 3/14/2019, midnight

American Theatre magazine, published by Theatre Communications Group (TCG), will focus this month on “The State of Black Theatre”. The issue addresses this broad theme from three angles—instritutions, artistry, and infrastructure—to survey a scene that has long been a vibrant and vital part of American theatre but remains underfunded and under-recognized.

The issue also seeks to address a central dilemma: As African-American artists increasingly find success and acclaim in predominantly White theaters, the fortunes of Black-run theaters that nurture talent and build audiences of color are continually precarious. Can theaters learn from other models, including film and TV, where Black artistry is ascendant and in many cases is also seizing the reins of production power?

“At American Theatre and TCG, we’ve long observed a familiar dynamic with concern,” said Rob Weinert-Kendt, the magazine’s editor-in-chief. “As major theatres around the country take steps to diversify their programming, including commissioning and programming the work of Black artists, they often divert the attention of funders, critics, and audiences away from institutions of color, which play a historic and ongoing role in nurturing artists and serving audiences of color. In this theme issue, we look at the way this dichotomy can put the success of Black artists and the health of Black institutions at cross purposes. But we also hope these stories can raise awareness of the unique value of both Black-run institutions and Black-authored theatre, and offer models that will lift them both.”

Said Monica White Ndounou, a scholar and artist whose contribution to the issue includes her report on last year’s International Black Theatre Summit, “For me, this issue is a call to action, especially for Black cultural producers to organize and build coalitions for a sustainable network across platforms using new business models with Black artists and theaters at the core. There are enough of us with a range of expertise in every area of the ecosystem of entertainment to create an infrastructure that consistently produces and supports the types of stories that explore the range and depth of who we are throughout the African diaspora. It’s all about humanity.”

The State of Black Theatre issue includes the following articles (the first 3 in print, all online at AmericanTheatre.org):

—Black Stage Report: Atlanta-based journalist Kelundra Smith reports on how African American theatres are embracing their own internal diversity and moving beyond the monolithic narrative.

—We’re Going to Need a Bigger Table: Chicago-based writer Jerald Raymond Pierce talks to a new wave of Black playwrights, who are upending the myth of the singular genius, even as tokenism and constraining expectations persist.

—Finding Wakanda Within: Ndounou’s report on last fall’s International Black Theatre Summit, which looked for ways to capitalize on Black cultural success.

—Black Theatre Coast to Coast: A comprehensive listing of all Black-run theatre and performing arts institutions in the U.S.

—How My HIV+ Diagnosis Made Me a Playwright: A moving first-person testimony from Donja R. Love (“Fireflies,” “Sugar in Our Wounds”) about his artistic and personal journey.

—The Gathering Is Called: St. Louis-based reporter Rosalind Early profiles the National Black Theatre Festival, run by the North Carolina Black Repertory Co.

—J.e. Franklin, the Playwright Who Will Not Give Up: Nathaniel Nesmith talks to this under-sung pioneer, best known for her 1969 play “Black Girl” but still at her craft.

—Chuck Smith, Charles Smith, and South Side Friendship: A Q&A with two Chicago theatre artists with similar names, great affinities, and a long working relationship.

American Theatre magazine is published 10 times a year by Theatre Communications Group. As the nation’s essential magazine for professional not-for-profit theatre, American Theatre has been providing theatre professionals, students, advocates, and audiences a comprehensive journal for more than 30 years.

Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for U.S. theatre, has for more than 55 years existed to strengthen, nurture, and promote the professional not-for-profit theatre. TCG’s constituency has grown from a handful of groundbreaking theatres to more than 700 member theatres and affiliate organizations and more than 12,000 individuals nationwide.